Westhampton Beach senior Jaden AlfanoStJohn remembers his feelings of excitement and marvel watching his first Empire Challenge football game live last year.
His elation over the idea of even having the opportunity to compete in the Long Island v. New York City All-Star game intensified when he was selected to the roster this season, but emotions rapidly mixed when what was to be the 25th annual game benefitting Boomer Esiason’s foundation for cystic fibrosis and local youth football programs, scheduled to be played June 19, was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When I got the news, I was very disappointed,” said AlfanoStJohn, who earned this year’s Hansen Award, given to Suffolk County’s best player. “I was looking forward to playing in it for a long time. I do understand the circumstance that the world is in right now, but I was really hoping they’d just delay it, and not cancel it.”
AlfanoStJohn followed several years of Hurricane success in the selection process. Dylan Laube and Aidan Quinlan played in 2018, with Laube being named the game MVP and Quinlan coming up with a big interception. Last year, Liam McIntyre, Jon Mendoza, and Edon Popi all represented their district.
“Westhampton has developed a great tradition with the game,” Westhampton Beach head football coach Bryan Schaumloffel said. “I know that the Boomer game was something that Jaden was really looking forward to. It is disappointing not having the opportunity to showcase Westhampton football, but I know Jaden is excited about beginning his college football career.”
In a statement, Empire Challenge executives said the decision was made after consulting with public health officials, and in light of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recent school building closure mandate for the remainder of the academic year. The organization said there are no plans for a makeup date later in the summer.
“To the players, coaches, and trainers: please monitor your emails over the next week as critical information will continue to be communicated,” the statement read. “We wish our athletes continued success in their athletic careers, and we wish everyone continued health and safety as the pandemic unfolds.”
Practices had not yet been held. AlfanoStJohn, who will be competing for Division I Long Island University Post in the fall, said he got as far as picking out equipment and trying on gear. Game coordinator Pete Blieberg said players will receive their game jerseys in the coming weeks, and that the idea of student-athletes on this year’s roster being honorary captains next year has been tossed around.
“Being at last year’s game was just such a cool experience . . . and I can only imagine the experience of playing in it,” AlfanoStJohn said. “There was a ton of hype, and I was very excited to play in front of all those people and play for my hometown of Westhampton.”